Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Weekend On the Road in 2007: From Manhattan to Springfield, Virginia: Skinny Puppy, Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery

There are times you look back upon yourself and realize you should be dead and then smile with silent alms being thrown to God and the universe that you survived to tell the story why.  In my younger, reckless days in college, I used to mountain climb without ropes.  I nearly saw my end once at the face of Maryland Heights above Harper's Ferry, West Virginia when I nearly lost my shoe and the rest of me with it.  I could've been splattered on the train tracks beneath that mountain if I hadn't found a partially unearthed branch to latch onto and get my bearings to finish the climb.  Scariest moment of my life, hands-down.

I also could've been roadkill in the middle of a summer night in 2007 after I'd fallen asleep behind the wheel and came to a dead stop in the road following a marathon trek from Maryland to Manhattan  then to Virginia the following day with only a few hours' rest.  I'd taken a triple assignment during one weekend in July, 2007 that found me schlepping up to New York City to cover an interview with cEvin Key of electro-industrial legends, Skinny Puppy on a Saturday, and then the reigning Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch along with Chris Caffery of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage the next day in what was then known as Jaxx, in Springfield, Virginia. 

I'd driven up to Manhattan early in the morning and caught the Staten Island Ferry into the city.  Saying hello to Lady Liberty with the morning sunrise at her skirts, I was dropped off at Battery Park and should've known from that point forward this would be a trip to remember. 

It's never a good omen when you go to grab a subway ticket into Midtown and you find out the yellow line, which is a direct artery into the heart of New York City, is closed from Battery Park through the next sixteen stops.  I kept a sense of humor about it, though, and since I'd arrived to the city long before my scheduled appointment with cEvin Key, I'd already planned to sightsee some of the places I'd yet to hit upon my other trips to the city.  Thus I tooled around Battery Park awhile then began my ascent up Broadway.

I'm still fascinated how a meager block can make all the difference in the world in New York City.  While Wall Street was jammed up with weekend tourists hovered around the iron bull, I managed to get someone to take a picture of me picking the bull's nose for posterity, but he'd snapped it off and was gone as fast as he'd handed me my camera back without checking to see he'd cut most of my face out of the picture.  Second omen.  As you move your way up Broadway from Wall Street, the blocks range from extravagant to downright poor and there's even a section that looks preserved from the 1800s and I heard the echoes of brawling from yesteryear, i.e. Gangs of New York.   Quickly, enough I found myself in Bowling Green, where the sun managed to squeeze through past the high-risers and that was when I started sweating as I took photos of the park and shortly after, old churches.  Following a long sojourn northwards into the city, I'd found myself in Soho and saw Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City dashing out of a building with someone in-tow and they literally dove into a car waiting for them.  I then found myself being stared at by numerous folks in Soho who obviously knew I didn't belong in that sector.  If you're from NYC, I needn't explain why.

Finally, after an hour or so on foot, I found a pickup station into Times Square and I was grateful I'd thought to pack deodorant in my tote.  I was starting to feel rank and after grabbing some of the driest sushi at a place outside of the Square I should've known better to have avoided, I merged into the mass of humanity clogging the commercial hub.  I ducked into what had always been one of my mandatory stops when it was still open, the Virgin Megastore.  I'd gone straight to the bottom level and ducked into the bathroom to freshen up and unload when it dawned on me there'd been no urinals in sight.  Thankfully, a dude janitor had my back and was blocking the entrance to the ladies' room I'd inadvertently meandered into.  Omen number three.  We high-fived as I thanked him and feeling stupid, I retreated to the upper tiers of the store until I was to meet of friend mine for a late lunch, Jen, who used to work for Roadrunner Records.

After a couple of relaxing hours with Jen, I checked in for my interview with cEvin Key.  If you've been in the rock 'n roll business, you know things don't always fly according to schedule.  Itineraries are often broken and rescheduled and I'd had it happen to me before.  I'm not one to be dick when a reschedule is needed, though I had to force the issue once on a different interview after I'd trekked nearly five hours to make the venue and was nearly turned away for a reschedule.  In this instance, my liaison kept dragging it out until I couldn't reach her any longer and then it wasn't until show time before she got back to me and said the interview needed to be re-booked.  In a way, I'm glad it happened, because cEvin Key gave me a longer and really deep interview when we got on the phone a few days later.  Still, I hung for the show at the Nokia and got some live photos like the one above and the one of Ogre you might've seen in another post.

After the show, I took the yellow line back downtown and though it had gone further down than it did earlier in the day, an announcement came over the intercom where the yellow line would be making one more stop and then it would skip the others, heading straight for Brooklyn.  Son of a bitch, I thought, as I got out ten blocks above the Port Authority at Battery Park.  Let me tell you this; don't expect a cab or a cop to stop for you downtown after midnight.  The few cabs there were (keeping in mind they're like yellow and orange maggots squeezing for turf all over Midtown) blew by me and I could see they had no fares already.  So down I walked and saw some things I don't care to remember, including a group of frat boys peddling a definitely stoned trick on the outskirts of Wall Street.  I had to whisper to another woman who was walking fast that I wasn't going to jump her when she flinched as I picked up my own pace.  Keep close in numbers where appropriate, I always say.  As we separated, there was the Wall Street bull all by his lonesome at 12:30 a.m., nobody around him.  I gave him a swat on his iron ass and lumbered into Port Authority to wait for a ferry back to Staten.

Good luck finding an open coffee place in the bottom tiers of New York City, much less Interstate 95, which I took all the way home and finally managed to find a place that had offered to sell me coffee that had been turned off for about an hour but not yet pitched.  Sold!  It was so fucking awful, but it did the job, especially once I found myself in the midst of a 4:00 a.m. drag race on 95 with a ton of street racers blowing around me.  I'd even seen two Delaware troopers pull off of 95 a minute beforehand, so you know the draggers did their homework.  I hadn't been more thankful to crawl into bed when I got home, even if it would only be a short sleep.

Chris Caffery

The next day found me scampering around running errands and visiting family for a quick haunt before I was back on the road to Virginia and with much better coffee for the ride down.  I didn't feel a lick of fatigue, except in my calves from the all humping around New York the day prior.  I was jazzed to be meeting up with Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery, both of whom I'd interviewed before.  Doro is the sweetest person on the planet, hands-down, and Caff is a righteous dude who talked with me for two hours the first time and he'd remembered me later down the road at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra meet-and-greet, which allowed me to show off a bit for my wife, who finally got it why I was so deeply involved in the music industry.

I was treated so nicely by Doro and her drummer/tour manager Johnny Dee.  Johnny's one of the most professional tour managers I've ever met and he made sure I was attended to, handed a VIP and he even escorted me through the back of the club, vouching for me everywhere we went.  Great guy, hands-down.  On the bus, Doro and I had a great chat and then Chris Caffery came aboard the bus right on time for my third interview of the weekend.  They both hung out as I conducted my business and since Caffery was not only supporting Doro with a solo set but playing in her band on that tour, they were cool enough to take photos with me.  Never mind the band-aids on my horns-up here.  That's another story altogether.

The show itself was a ton of fun.  I like Virginia metalheads a lot.  I always make new friends there as they're very outgoing and receptive to out-of-towners.  It's not like other states where, if I don't have a guest with me, my cell phone becomes my show buddy.  As usual, I found people to chat with at Jaxx as Joey Belladonna opened up the show with a solo flight (this gig coming right after he'd done a bunch of Anthrax reunion shows), that everyone ate up and started moshing around to.  Here's one of the shots I got of his slot:

Joey Belladonna

During Doro's set, the Jaxx crowd sang every single song along with her and Doro passed the mike out a number of times, encouraging everyone to sing along.  The lady's a master of her trade and I don't think I've seen more transfixed, lovesick men in one room than I did that night.  I knew Doro had a really bad cold but she still got out there and knocked out a home run on what was opening night of that tour.  She never lets her fans down, that's a fact.  I slapped hands with her and Chris Caffery from the corner of the stage and thanked Johnny Dee for a great night when the whole thing was over. I published a number of shots of Doro's set with my article in my one-time column at AMP magazine, "Death From Below," but down here is a playful photo of Doro and Caff I've never shared until now.  Before leaving, I had a quick howdy with Joey Belladonna since I've interviewed him a few times as well and I left Jaxx feeling energized. 

Doro Pesch and Chris Caffery

That was, until I got an hour-plus on the road.  To this day, I thank everything we pray to as humans for looking after me that night.  I remember hitting the final route on the way home, which was still an easy half hour to traverse.  I remember having the windows down to my pickup truck and cranking music to stay awake.  I had work the following morning and it was 1:42 a.m.  I remember that precisely, because when I next looked at the clock at 1:46, I'd been at a complete stop in the middle of the road.  I'd been passed out for four entire minutes!  Amazingly, I'd stayed in my lane and halted there without deviating one way or the other.  Even more so no traffic had been there to pulverize me.

I don't ever discount for one minute how fortunate I was that night.  That wonderfully zany weekend had its share of ups and downs and plenty of danger and here I am to talk to about it.  The bands themselves have much more crazier experiences than this, but suffice it to say, my road dogging that summer weekend in '07 will always stay fresh in my mind.

All photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.

                        Listenin' to:  The Cure - Bloodflowers

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